I’ve never been fully convinced about Jim Jarmusch, whose dialogue often feels too scripted and soulless, but he has always been able to offer a combination of actors and roles which make you think “I’d pay good money to see that.”
So how’s this for starters? There’s Bill Murray and Adam Driver as a pair of laconic cops, backed up by a (somewhat underwritten) Chloe Sevigny. There’s Steve Buscemi as a redneck farmer, Tom Waits as the hairy Hermit Bob and Selena Gomez as a hipster from out of town. Of course there’s Iggy Pop as a zombie. And then there’s Tilda Swinton as a samurai sword wielding Scottish funeral director.
With characters like that, a film just writes itself. But is it Any Good? Well, as a matter of fact it is.
This doesn’t really lie in the perfunctory plot – an hour of exposition, meeting the various characters who are usually saying that this isn’t going to end well, followed by 45 minutes of killing – and being killed by – zombies. Indeed it’s at its weakest when it tries to explain what’s going on. Strained analogies to climate change, trumpism and consumerism mainly get in the way of watching the actors have a good time.
And while Iggy was born to play a scenery chewing zombie, the best of the acting comes from the ones who are underdoing it. In 99 times out of 100, this would mean that the star turn would be Bill Murray, blithely ambling through the carnage as if the zombie apocalypse were a weekly occurrence. But although Murray is indeed at the top of his game, its Swinton who commands every scene she’s in.
It’s as if she’s in a different film, possibly one written by her eloquent former partner John Byrne. Spookily in control, she addresses everyone else with their full names, unsettling both them and us. There’s a bit of the Miss Jean Brodie of her, which is all the more pronounced by her deep Scottish brogue.
It’s all a pile of tosh of course, but for most of the time the film is fully aware of this, allowing us to laugh with it. And even the fourth wall breaking references to actors having read the script and talked to Jim about the ending is used sparingly and seems less self-satisfied than it could have.
I enjoyed myself, and as the first open air film of the season, the weather held up as well.